Trade in Quebec


Annual gathering: In 1635, several hundred Wendat (Huron) headmen and traders arrived in Quebec City to engage in diplomatic meetings and trade with the French. All present hoped to reach agreements that would strengthen ties between the French and the Wendats.

Seeking trade: French explorers first came to Canada seeking a northern passage to China, or to replicate the Spaniards' success in South America by discovering gold and silver. Disappointed in finding precious metals, the French turned to trade in furs for lucrative profits in France. Samuel de Champlain, an early French explorer and colonizer, initially sought trade alliances with Native peoples of the east. He pursued a closer relationship with the Wendats, because they lived at the center of a vast Native trade network, far enough inland to have access to a rich supply of furs, yet conveniently located along major waterways enabling them to bring their furs to Quebec.

Muskets: The Wendats were traditional enemies of the Iroquois. The two strong confederacies maintained a fragile balance of power before European contact. Once the Wendats felt the devastating effects of muskets wielded by the Iroquois, they were determined to obtain French muskets for themselves. They were eager to negotiate a trade relationship with the French that would also establish their new trading partners as military allies.

Division: During the 1635 meeting in Quebec, the Wendats gave the French permission to establish a permanent Jesuit mission in Wendake. This concession helped to secure their alliance with the French. In Wendake, the Jesuits slowly gained a number of converts. These conversions opened a rift between those who adhered to traditional Wendat beliefs and the new Christian converts. The deepening divisions among the Wendats weakened their political structure as recurring epidemics decimated their population. Repeated attacks by the Iroquois devastated the Wendats. By 1649, the survivors had abandoned much of their homeland and dispersed. Some joined their French allies near Quebec, others were absorbed into the Iroquois Confederacy, while still others went to the western Great Lakes region.


A civilizing force: This meeting with the Wendats was critical to Governor Samuel de Champlain's strategy for developing the colony of New France. Like other European nations, the French justified their colonization of Native homelands as an opportunity to spread the Christian faith to heathens. They believed that, in order to Christianize Native peoples, they first must be "civilized," that is, taught to live in accordance with European ways. Missionary work among the indigenous population was thus part of a general policy of acculturation and conversion.

Trade offs: As part of the French-Wendat trade alliance, Champlain demanded that the Wendats accept Jesuit missionaries to live among them. He also insisted that Wendat families send their young children to live at Quebec and be taught in Jesuit schools so they would be more quickly assimilated into French culture. Champlain explained to the Wendats that if they converted to Christianity, the French would help them fight the Iroquois; Frenchmen would marry their daughters to seal the alliance; and French artisans would show their Wendat brothers how to make iron tools.

Converts: The Jesuits preferred to live among the Wendats, rather than bringing adult converts to live in French settlements. They believed, that in their own villages, the Wendats would remain isolated from the vices of sinful French laymen. The Jesuits established permanent residency in Wendake just before the first wave of epidemics wiped out nearly half of the Wendat population. By 1646, the Jesuits had converted only about 500 Wendat people in a population of 12,000. As the crisis with the Iroquois deepened, the Wendats turned to the Jesuits for help. By 1649, as many as half of all Wendats had been baptized.


Trade: When the Wendats (Huron) met Champlain in 1609, they were embroiled in a long-standing war against the Iroquois Confederacy. Impressed by the power of French firearms, the Wendats sought a military alliance to help them against their enemies. For the Wendats, allies maintained their relationship through trade. French trade would also provide direct access to desirable European cloth and iron tools which had been circulating through Wendat communities to the east.

"Hostages": When Champlain demanded that the Wendats accept Jesuits to live among them, the Wendats accepted them—not because they wanted to become Christians—but as customary hostages which were exchanged when two groups sought alliance with one another. The Wendats were more interested in the lay Frenchmen who accompanied the priests because laymen could carry guns.

Ulterior motives: The Jesuits initially had great difficulty gaining Wendat converts, and the French military and trade alliance did not entirely live up to Wendat expectations. The French refused to trade guns with their Wendat allies until 1641. Thereafter, the French traded guns only with Christian converts. Most Wendats converted to Christianity to obtain guns, to gain a more favorable trading relationship with the French, or in hopes of joining other converted family members in heaven after death.

The fall: Outward opposition to the Jesuits throughout their stay in Wendake generated factionalism within the confederacy. Christianity frayed the Wendat social fabric when the Jesuits prohibited their converts from participating in traditional Wendat community rituals designed to maintain cohesion among the people. These social rifts compromised the security and viability of the Wendat confederacy. Refusals by Christian and traditional warriors to fight together and other internal conflicts, contributed to the Wendat confederacy's demise in the face of vigorous attacks by their powerful Iroquois enemies.

Captions for rollovers in the interactive scene illustrations.

To improve his trade prospects, Soranhes has befriended priests, knowing that this will ingratiate him with French authorities.

Jean de Brébeuf hopes to establish a permanent Jesuit mission in Wendake, a key to the French strategy to "civilize" the Wendats and make them imperial subjects.

In an exchange with the French, Amantacha spent two years in France learning the language and diplomatic skills necessary to help his people trade more effectively with the French.

The Wendat are more interested in taking lay Frenchmen than priests back to Wendake because, unlike Jesuits, they can carry guns and offer protection for the people.

Copper kettles are welcome diplomatic gifts and valuable trade items.

While French iron axes prove useful weapons, the Wendat prefer to trade in guns, which the French refused to do until 1641, and then only to Christian converts.

Samuel de Champlain promised that if the Wendats would become Christian and intermarry with the French, they would teach the Wendats how to make valuable iron tools.

Samuel de Champlain ordered this storehouse built to stock furs, trade goods, and the provisions necessary for survival in the colony.

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